Even if Greece decided to sue Germany at the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the question of war reparations and the forced occupation loan, there is still a strong chance that the tribunal would declare itself incompetent to rule on the case, says lawyer Stelios Perakis, professor of international and European institutions at Panteion University in Athens.
Germany has said it does not accept the court’s jurisdiction over issues that concern World War II, explains Perakis, who is authorized by the Greek state to represent Greece on the case of Distomo, a small town where more than 200 people were killed by German troops in reprisal for guerrilla attacks. This means that even if Greece went to go to court unilaterally, the judges might declare themselves incompetent.
In November 2008, a court in Florence, Italy, ruled that the families of the 218 men and women killed by Nazi troops in the village of Distomo should be awarded a villa in Menaggio, near Lake Como, which is owned by a German state nonprofit organization, by way of restitution. However, Germany took Italy to the Hague court over the case in 2012, claiming that Italian courts had failed to respect the sovereign immunity of Germany in cases brought in Italian courts dealing with human rights violations by Germany during World War II.
The descendents of Distomo victims had previously been awarded a favorable ruling by the Livadia First Instance Court and the Supreme Court in Athens. For the decision – which stipulated the confiscation of German state-owned property in Greece such as the Goethe Institute or the German School of Athens – to be implemented though, it required a Justice Ministry decree. However ministers were bound by a Special Supreme Court ruling on the claims for compensation for acts committed by German forces in the Greek village of Lidoriki in 1944, which found that Germany was entitled to jurisdictional immunity.
When the late lawyer Yiannis Stamoulis, a former Greek member of the European Parliament, used a European Council ruling to enforce the decision of the Greek courts in Italy, Germany resorted to the International Court of Justice against Italy, arguing that the country had no legal right to launch a procedure to confiscate German properties for the case.
And when a Distomo resident took the case to a German court in 2003, judges threw out the case for lack of legislation.
Given the legal obstacles, many argue that Greece must concentrate its efforts on the forced occupation law where it has tangible legal advantages.
As Kathimerini has reported in the past, Greece has documents which prove that the Germans were paying back the loan in installments up to a week before they left the country – a fact which shows they acknowledged its existence.
After the fall of Hitler, the Bank of Greece and the German central bank recorded the amounts of money that Germany and Italy forced Greece to pay for every month of the occupation.
Also important is a note verbale by the German Embassy in Athens on March 31, 1967, which, referring to the granting of 115 million DM to Greece in 1960 – all of which went toward individual compensations – states that “the federal government never assumed that the Greek government intended to formally give up its legally grounded claims dating to the time of the occupation in WWII.”
However, seven decades on, during which Greece has launched no systematic legal effort or campaign to influence public opinion, it all seems to boil down to what an old French diplomat said: “In diplomacy, it is not enough to have a just cause. You also need to have an attractive one.”